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Bill Thayer

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Discourse 53

This webpage reproduces one of the

Dio Chrysostom

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1946

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Discourse 55

(Vol. IV) Dio Chrysostom

 p371  The Fifty-fourth Discourse:
On Socrates

This little tribute to Socrates is presumably the prelude to some longer discussion. It affords no clue as to either the occasion or the place where the speech was delivered, but the speaker's rather scornful treatment of the sophists, who occupy fully one-third of the piece, and his affectionate regard for Socrates point clearly to some date subsequent to Dio's exile.

Hippias of Elis, Gorgias of Leontini, Polus, and Prodicus are all familiar figures among the sophists who made such a stir in Greece toward the close of the fifth century B.C. All make their appearance in the pages of Plato, Hippias and Gorgias having provided the titles for three of his dialogues. One might wonder why Dio refrains from naming "the man from Abdera" (§ 2). Abdera's fame may be said to rest upon that of two of her native sons, Democritus, the famous philosopher, and Protagoras, no less famous as a sophist. In spite of the verb φιλοσοφῶν in § 2, we infer that it is the latter whom Dio has in mind, and also he would naturally take his place beside the four sophists already named. Like them, he figures prominently in Plato's dialogues, and one of them bears his name.

 p373  The Fifty-fourth Discourse:
On Socrates

The sophists, Hippias of Elis and Gorgias of Leontini and Polus and Prodicus, flourished in Greece for some time and won marvellous acclaim, not alone in the cities at large, but even in Sparta and Athens,​1 and they amassed much wealth, each according to his ability, both by public grant from the several states and also from certain princes and kings and men in private life.​2 But though they made many speeches, their speeches were devoid of sense, even the slightest — the kind of speech from which, no doubt, it is possible to make money and to please simpletons!​3 2 But there was another, a native of Abdera, who, far from acquiring money from others, not only was steadily ruining his own estate, which was a large one, but finally lost it by pursuing philosophy, foolishly, it is plain to see, and seeking after what was of no material advantage to him.4

 p375  3 And there was also Socrates, a poor man at Athens and a man of the people, who also was not driven by his poverty to accept anything; and yet he had a wife who had no hatred for money, and also sons who required support, and, besides, he is said to have associated with the wealthiest among the young men, some of whom are reported to have begrudged him literally nothing.​5 However, he was in general sociable in his nature and a lover of his kind, and in particular he made himself accessible to all who wished to approach and converse with him, not only spending his time for the most part about the market-place, but visiting the palaestra​6 and sitting down near the tables of the money-changers — quite like the people who display their petty wares in the market or peddle them from door to door — on the chance that some one, whether young or old, might wish to ask some question and hear his answer. Now then, most of the influential persons and professional speakers pretended not even to see him; but whoever of that description did approach him, like those who have struck something with their foot, got hurt and speedily departed.

4 However, while the words of those sophists, who won such admiration, have perished and nothing remains but their names alone,​7 the words of Socrates, for some strange reason, still endure and will endure for all time, though he himself did not write or leave behind him either a treatise or a will. In fact,  p377 Socrates died intestate as to both his wisdom and his estate. Yet though he had no estate that could be made public property through confiscation — as is commonly done in the case of men who have been condemned as criminals — his words in reality have been made public property, not by foes, God knows, but by his friends; nevertheless, though they are even now not only accessible for all but also held in high esteem, few understand them and partake of their wisdom.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Sparta and Athens are no doubt given special mention because they were the leading cities of that day. It is, however, surprising to hear that Sparta was hospitable toward the sophists, for they were a subversive influence and Sparta was noted for its suspicion of outsiders in general.

2 Tradition has much to say regarding their love of wealth and their success in attaining it.

3 Their ability to "make the worse appear the better cause" was notorious. It was effectively satirized by Aristophanes in the Clouds.

4 Dio must have had in mind Plato's Hippias Maior 282D‑293A, the theme and spirit of which are strikingly similar. However, his memory of the passage is faulty, for what he records about "a certain man of Abdera" (Protagoras) Plato relates about the philosopher Anaxagoras, and he expressly classes Protagoras with the sophists Gorgias and Prodicus as having made from sophistic more money than any other craftsman whatsoever.

5 Cf. Crito 44E‑45B. Critias and Alcibiades also were among the wealthy admirers of Socrates.

6 Athletic schools.

7 There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of this statement; but, though surprisingly little of the work of the sophists is extant to‑day, we have a few examples, e.g., the Encomium of Helen by Gorgias (cf. Van Hook, Isocrates, Vol. III, L. C. L.), a fragment of a funeral oration by the same author, and a treatise, On the Art, preserved in the Hippocratic corpus, but attributed to Protagoras by Gomperz.

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